Hybridised Zeitgeist

From a dormant city comes a wine rooted in time and place

One way or another, we are all victims of Hegel. We live as though history were a continuous drama, with act following act towards some grand finale. We are creatures of the Zeitgeist, condemned to be "of our time".

Hence, because modernism is finished, we must now belong to postmodernism. Because tonality is exhausted, we must now accept atonality: no matter that this kills music; that is what the Zeitgeist insists on.

The refutation of this nonsense is Florence. No town of its size, save Athens, has ever achieved the greatness of Florence. But since the 17th century, history has passed it by. A few revivals, an operatic première or two, the occasional spurt of local nationalism - the rest is entirely the work of tourists such as Henry James, E M Forster, Bernard Berenson and the EU, with its University Institute devoted to the ideas of the immediate past. Florence has remained as it was when the Medici family had finally murdered its way to extinction. Thereafter, its treasures were subject to nothing worse than the sterilising gaze of American scholars, the occasional flood from the Arno, and the more constant flood of voyeurs arriving and departing in coachloads. This tiny place, which in the course of 300 years produced artists, poets and thinkers at a rate that has never been equalled, is now dormant. It is not a modern city, nor a postmodern city, but a fragment of the past.

Six kilometres to the north of the city, in what the producer calls a "natural amphitheatre" on a hillside, is a six-hectare vineyard planted with a clone of the Sangiovese grape. This is the vineyard that produces the 1999 Camposilio on offer from Corney & Barrow. It is an interesting fact about the Sangiovese that it is no sooner visited by the Zeitgeist than it hybridises - always adapting to its circumstances, always belonging to a place and a time. The grape of Camposilio is therefore native to the site, and the wine has a depth of flavour and solidity of fruit that are entirely its own.

Only a few kilometres to the south begins the region of Chianti, where other hybrids of the Sangiovese stand to attention on the hillsides. But this Camposilio is no more a Chianti than a donkey is a mule. It is one of those complex, tightly knit Italian reds that mature in the bottle and open out generously in the glass.

With a good six years of bottle age, the wine is now approaching its best and its quality justifies the price. With an almond aroma and plum-pudding fruit, it will be the ideal accompaniment to the pork roast that we have planned for Christmas Day. And when the Zeitgeist appears at the window, demanding that we belong to the time when we are, we will bury our noses in our glasses and think of Florence, where time stands still.

Roger Scruton is a philosopher and countryside campaigner as well as an author and broadcaster. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s leading right wing thinkers, his publications include the Meaning of Conservatism. He has also written on fox hunting.

This article first appeared in the 04 December 2006 issue of the New Statesman, Nation of fools